In the wake of the recent announcement that the former campus dining center McConaughy Hall (MoCon) is set to be demolished this summer, students, alumni, and community members have flooded the University blogosphere with impassioned responses from all sides of the debate, igniting discussion over the artistic, financial, and sentimental value of the building.

“We [alumni] thought they would keep it up for 20 years before they figured out something else to do with it,” said Ron Medley ’73. “We weren’t aware how imminent the demolition was.”

The process of finding a contractor for the demolition project is already underway and final bids are due on March 8, said Director of University Media Relations David Pesci. According to President Michael Roth, some alumni have indicated that they will be less inclined to donate to the University in the future if the demolition occurs, although none have offered to donate funds to restore the current structure.

“I respect their views,” Roth wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “But we don’t make decisions that way.”

Several alumni and students posted on The Argus website in response to a Feb. 12 article about the University’s plans to demolish the former dining hall. Many expressed disapproval of the plans while others agreed with Associate Vice President for Physical Plant Facilities Joyce Topshe’s assertion that adaptive reuse is not a financially viable option.

Matthew Weiner ’87, creator of the AMC series Mad Men, posted a comment on Feb. 20, expressing his belief that the University is disregarding MoCon’s value as a piece of art and saying “they obviously forgot that a University’s true financial health is related to its standing in the mind of its graduates.” In a recent conversation with the Argus, Weiner explained his frustration.

“You can’t put a price tag on this sort of thing,” he said. “I think they should spend the money to maintain it until the economy turns around.”

Weiner also suggested that a certain double standard exists at Wesleyan where the University’s athletics receive significant alumni support, while the arts fall on the back burner. Weiner joked about potential future uses for McConaughy that would curry greater financial support.

“If people could play sports in it, things would be a lot different,” he said. “Make it a gym.”

Medley, who also posted on the article, expressed a different sentiment. Instead of maintaining the building until money is available for adaptive reuse, he suggested that the University rebuild McConaughy in a more sustainable fashion after the current, inefficient structure has been torn down.

“There is precedent for demolishing a college building and then rebuilding it the way it was,” Medley said in a conversation with The Argus. “Amherst has done it. I don’t see why that when Wesleyan gets the money, it can’t do the same and call it McConaughy.”

The grandson of MoCon’s namesake President, Jim McConaughy ’68, MA ’74 also commented on the Feb. 12 article, expressing his disappointment with the University’s decision.

“Many people will miss McConaughy Hall,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “What is different in my case is that McConaughy Hall was named after my grandfather and so there is an added sadness and disappointment to think of its imminent demolition.”

Roth argued that buildings, especially dining halls, should not be expected to last permanently. Roth also said that the University will find another way to memorialize President McConaughy’s name on campus after MoCon’s demolition. He acknowledged the passionate responses of alumni and explained that the University has, in fact, explored many options for MoCon’s future.

“As an alumnus myself, I understand nostalgia, and I, too, have positive feelings for the building,” Roth said. “I respect those people voicing their frustration with the plans for demolition, and I have examined various alternatives. But the building is an eyesore right now and it’s going to be a hazard if we leave it the way it is. I’m not willing to spend a lot of money on something that doesn’t make sense.”

Designed by architect Charles Warner in 1962 and named after President James L. McConaughy, the cylindrical hall was built in a modernist style incorporating many native materials, according to Circuit Rider for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation (CT Trust) Gregory Farmer, who said that he evaluated the building in summer 2007 after it had closed. Although it was no longer in active use, the building was in stable condition at that time, and Farmer recommended to now-retired professor Dick Buel that the University maintain the building to prevent deterioration. The CT Trust considers the adaptive reuse of existing buildings to be the most cost-effective type of recycling. Any energy that was used to erect the building in the first place, they argue, becomes wasted when the building is demolished and the materials go into a landfill.

“Unfortunately, the college was not responsive to my suggestions for preserving the building, securing it from damage, and exploring creative options for adaptive reuse,” Farmer wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.

According to Pesci, there is no record that a meeting between Farmer and administration or Physical Plant employees occurred or that he submitted recommendations for the preservation of McConaughy.

“As for his contention that we have not explored ‘creative options for adaptive reuse,’ this is patently untrue as evidenced by the extensive list of possible re-use options we have explored and shared with The Argus and the campus community,” Pesci wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “Virtually all of these were found to be exceptionally cost-exclusive to the point, in some cases, of being significantly more expensive than creating an entirely new structure.”

On campus, student opposition to the demolition plans has been gathering support. Miles Bukiet ’11 started the Facebook group “Save Mocon” several weeks ago in order to find a feasible way to preserve McConaughy Hall and demonstrate the large following of students the building has. While Bukiet never ate a meal in MoCon, he became familiar with it after helping to coordinate the annual Waste Not! student-run tag sale that was hosted there last fall. Although he initially only invited a few friends to join the group, there are now over 1,300 members, including current students and many alumni.

“That reflects that it’s a building a lot of people care about,” he said. “When you have 1,300 people, it becomes very different. It provides some leverage.”

After learning about the University’s decision to demolish the structure, Bukiet began contacting Physical Plant staff and administrators to find out more specific information about the plans. Generally speaking, however, MoCon’s partisans are not optimisitc.

“If there is anything to be done, it has to be done this week,” Bukiet said.

“The hubbub started when it was too late,” Weiner said.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    best line:

    “If people could play sports in it, things would be a lot different,” he said. “Make it a gym.”

  • Matthew Weiner

    As a COL grad and not an "ex-pottery major" I have to note that your self-amused and patronizing attitude towards the arts and all those who support preservation is really clarifying your position.

  • Anon

    Mocon Flash Party last weekend was excellent. Surprised to not see it mentioned in this article. Perhaps a follow-up with the planners (under the condition of anonymity of course) and student reaction?

  • Ron Medley, `73

    Surely, couple of friendly jabs during an, admittedly passionate, discussion should not cause anyone to draw that conclusion. If your position is that no sum should be spared in saving the _original_ Mocon, down to the last bit of stone on its polished floor, then — I’m sorry — I just have to respectfully disagree with you. My position, that Mocon should be rebuilt at a future date rather than fitfully remodeled on an _ad hoc_ basis today, is in no way a surrogate marker for my general position on the arts.

    In general, I can’t say that I am in favor of “remakes”. I’m not entirely sure, for example, what Gus Van Sant did to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was entirely desirable or necessary. In part, that’s because we already have the original and it is in pretty good shape the way it is.

    It is unfortunate that the same cannot be said for Mocon.

    Furthermore, I think a lot of us — alum and current students alike — would appreciate your views on that issue — the “remake” issue, if you will — not on what you may think of me personally.

  • Suzy Shedd, ’80

    I have only recently started reading the Argus online, so I well may have missed this: “extensive list of possible re-use options we have explored and shared with The Argus and the campus community,” (Pesci). Argus staff, could you provide us with links to those? Certainly those of us in the alum community have never received this info. It would be great to know, in detail, just what process was used to determine MoCon’s fate, who the players were,and how it was decided that they were stakeholders and that the majority of the Wesleyan community was not.

  • Anonymous Alumnus 70’s

    For some of us McConaughy Hall was one of our first impressions of the campus and not an eyesore at all.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    mazel tov.

  • Dave Feldman ’73 AKA David Harp

    I repeat:
    If McConaughy/MoCon must fall, let’s have a memorial concert (by students and alum) — performers on top of the steps where they should be, audience on the dining hall floor!
    Maybe at ReUnion/Commencement?
    I’ll volunteer!
    Who else is up for this?

    P.S. Hey, even if MoCon is saved, it’s still a great opportunity for a party! df/dh

  • anon ’13

    Dear Alumni,

    PLEASE don’t stop donating to Wesleyan if MoCon goes. I can understand you feel a deep connection to this landmark building, but surely the health of Wesleyan as a whole means a lot more than one building. I don’t want the quality of my education to be jeopardized because some people couldn’t see the bigger picture.

  • Suzy Shedd, ’80

    Dear Anonymous — I don’t think there’s any serious movement among alums not to donate at all if MoCon goes. However, anyone who wishes to donate LARGE sums would certainly have to wonder if there was any point to giving for something the University might toss away in less than 50 years.

    “Some people” believe we ARE looking at the “larger picture.” We think the quality of your education is adversely affected if you go to a school that does not value beauty, history, and — especially — a thoughtful, open, and transparent process for decisions that make significant changes in the landscape of your campus.

    I hope you are actually a student; it’s hard to imagine a valid reason for not putting your name to a legitimate concern.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    I think President Roth addressed the legacy issue in accompanying article above. I might also add that Governor McConaughy was dead for fourteen years before Mocon was named for him.

  • Susy Shedd, ’80

    Screw you Ron.

  • Suzy Shedd, ’80

    Ron — the above comment (directed at you) is NOT from me, and I have no idea who is using my name. ARGUS STAFF — CAN YOU REMOVE THIS? PLEASE???

    However, I should say that my interest in the historic value of MoCon is not primarily about Prex MoCon — nor was it ever. I think you’re confusing me with someone else. I do think it’s a real testament to the man that 14 years after his death someone thought it was appropriate that something so amazing should have his name attached to it.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    Hmmm, so, if it wasn’t you… Posted just before start of Oscar ceremonies; probably still sleeping off Miramax afterparty… Matthew, I want an apology right now!

  • anon ’05

    i think miles davis, phish and talib kweli (or was it mos def) all (supposedly i think) all played shows in MoCon. “Toke & Moke” went together like PB & Jelly freshman year. However, I gotta say – the smell that emanated from MoCon was maybe enough reason to close it down. I could smell the MoCon stench on my hallmates in the dorm hallways after they had eaten there…pretty gross.

  • Matthew Weiner

    did I mention I got the idea for Mad Men in MoCon?

    I originally was going to call it MoCon Men. Luckily, AMC talked me off the ledge.

    *tears up*

    I’m sorry. I just love my MoCon––and I fear for it.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    so wait, the character of Dan Draper is _not_ based on Edwin D. Etherington? Go ahead, let me down easy.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    Don Draper.

  • dave feldman ’73 AKA David Harp

    Hey Matthew,
    I saw your SAVE MOCON message in the “Argus Retraction Article (Mytheos)” comments.
    Are you going to put that comment in every article?
    Why not?
    What do you think of my “Save MoCon” Concert idea (or, more accurately, my “Bring Attention to MoCon and Honor It” Concert idea?
    What about you, Ron?
    Doesn’t MoCon deserve, IYHO, at least a fine farewell, if not permanent memorialization or complete renovation?

  • Danger Will Robinson

    Lost in Space Mother Ship

  • Ron Medley, `73

    It’s a great idea, but I assume Matthew is awaiting the same decision by Michael Roth, `78 we all are, whether or not to go ahead with the demolition. It was delayed (see, the post above my “mazel tov”.)

    It’s a seventies show.

  • Suzabelle ’83

    It was so cool inside, being in the woods and all. Too bad they would demolish such a unique building. I could see it becoming a giant yoga retreat, or someplace to have more concerts. We danced to reggae music there.

  • dave feldman ’73 AKA David Harp

    Whether or not MoCon bites the dust, I vote for a concert. If farewell concert, so be it.
    Great acoustics, unbelievably strange venue.
    Can’t hate it!!!

  • Ron Medley, `73

    ^^what if you made it a fundraiser?

  • dave feldman ’73 AKA David Harp

    For whom?
    (I’m always in favor of doing things as fundraisers. Not sure if “Saving MoCon via Fundraiser” is either possible or the way to go. Perhaps it will save itself, at the eleventh hour, by simply levitating to seek its home planet…)

  • Ron Medley, `73

    Well, yeah. we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves. I’m just saying, if the pricetag for a full Mocon rehabilitation came in at say, <$2million, Wesleyan has raised that amount at other celebrity-backed venues ("In The Heights" and the Bill Cosby fundraiser a few years ago.)

  • Beam Me Up Scotty

    Danger Danger Warning Will Robinson. Demolition crews fast approaching!!

  • dave feldman ’73 AKA David Harp

    “Full MoCon rehabilitation,” Ron?
    That sounds like we want to send it to a Drug and Alcohol facility.
    Do those places accept buildings?

  • Ron Medley, `73

    I know. I’m always projecting.